Project Veritas has kept its founder James O’Keefe’s promise to sue CNN for reporting Twitter’s ban (the group also sued Twitter in a separate lawsuit). There has been an explosion of such defamation lawsuits, including a lawsuit brought by Dominion against Fox News (I’m a Fox employee for full disclosure). The lawsuits raise interesting but challenging grounds for media lawsuits.
As in previous controversies, Twitter has refused to respond to requests due to its suspension or adverse treatment by other news and advocacy groups. The project claims it was banned after one of its reporters confronted Facebook Vice President Guy Rosen outside of his home. That’s a pretty common media encounter. However, the problem in the CNN lawsuit is not the basis for reporting the permanent suspension.
Project Veritas notes that both CNN and anchor Ana Cabrera had known the reasons for the suspension since February 11, 2021. Subsequent reports indicated that Project Veritas was permanently banned from Twitter for a video / tweet that violated the platform’s policies from sharing – or threatening to share – other people’s private information without consent. “Brian Fung,” Twitter Permanently Bans Project Veritas Account, “CNN.COM (February 11, 2021), https: //www.cnn. com / 2021/02/11 / tech / twitter-project-veritas / index.html; Ana Cabrera 3 (@AnaCabrera), Twitter (February 11, 2021), https://twitter.com / anacabrera / status / 1359977301312761857? Long = en.
However, the project claims that “CNN made a demonstrably and knowingly false statement of fact on February 15, 2021 that Twitter banned Project Veritas on February 11, 2021 for violating Twitter’s” authenticity “policy “Promoting Misinformation” – not, as Twitter itself claimed, for violating Twitter’s policy on truthfully disseminating “private information.” CNN’s Cabrera will report a February 15, 2021 ban on misinformation on her cited himself reporting that the ban was for an alleged invasion of privacy.
The question is whether reporting a suspension as a basis for “misinformation” is defamatory when someone has been suspended for violating data protection regulations. Both are reputationally damaging, but they indicate that you are trying to deceive. Although the project is controversial in its tactics, it claims that it provides truthful videotapes and stories. In raising a single libel number, the project claims:
“The distinction between the defendant’s false statements about Project Veritas ‘ban on Twitter and the statements that Twitter itself made about the ban is immensely important and speaks directly to Project Veritas’ suitability to deal with investigative journalism, how this term was historically defined. Until recently, truthful and accurate reporting of facts was the hallmark of investigative journalism, and great journalism was characterized by its neutral presentation of facts rather than its ability to advance a preferred narrative. Project Veritas ‘mission requires faithful adherence to traditional notions of journalistic integrity, and the false statement by CNN that Twitter banned Project Veritas for “promoting misinformation” damages Project Veritas’ professional reputation. “
The question is whether it is enough to get the project to be discovered by denying an expected motion to reject it. The project recently won a major victory in the rejection of such a motion by the New York Times. If they are able to make discoveries, the project could look to Twitter and CNN reps for testimony – a prospect no company would enjoy.
Project Veritas has been accused of making misleading changes or accounts. Last September, researchers at Stanford University and the University of Washington wrote that a Video from Project Veritas alleging election fraud with unidentified sources shows what a “domestic, coordinated disinformation campaign by the US elite” looks like. However, this doesn’t seem to be the reason for Twitter’s suspension. There are still many unanswered questions about the suspension of Twitter that have shown little commitment to clarify their actions against a conservative media company. There are legitimate concerns that Twitter is using a different standard in banning the project from that used by other media and public interest organizations.
The most interesting thing about the lawsuit is that there has been longstanding hostility between Project Veritas and CNN. In fact, the project replayed targeted CNN numbers and O’Keefe posted a video of crashing a private CNN conference call in December. This could be cited as evidence of malice.
The standard for defamation of public figures and officials in the United States is the result of a decision made against Sullivan decades ago in the New York Times. This is exactly the environment in which the opinion was drafted and he is exactly the type of plaintiff that the opinion should put off. The Supreme Court ruled that tort law cannot be used to override the protection of freedom of speech or the free press provided by the First Amendment. The Court sought to give the media “breathing space” by formulating this standard, which now applies to both civil servants and public figures. As such, officials and public figures must demonstrate either actual knowledge of their falsehood or a reckless disregard for the truth.
At Fox, the network is facing lawsuits from Smartmatic and a $ 1.6 billion lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems over allegations of fraud and election rigging by Trump attorneys. Fox claims it merely covered the allegations, while the company insists that the hosts went beyond reporting and confirmed the allegations as true. The hosts Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and Lou Dobbs are also named as defendants.
Smartmatic’s lawsuit is far more detailed and comprehensive. However, it focuses on debunking the allegations made by Trump attorneys like Giuliani and Powell and then accusing Fox hosts of giving undue credibility to the allegations in interviews. For example, the complaint quotes this statement by Dobbs after allowing Giuliani to relate his allegations:
“And Rudy, we are glad that you are on the case and are following the truth and clearing up a very complicated and difficult story. By the way, not only is it difficult, it also feels like being covered up in certain places. You know, when we take the servers abroad, private companies, we have no transparency with these servers. This is both an election nightmare and a battle. “
In its complaint, the company also cites reports such as this one from November 15 by Bartiromo, who also interviewed Giuliani. Bartiromo stated, “A source says the most important point to understand is that the Smartmatic system has a back door that enables it [ ] or that allows the votes to be mirrored and monitored so that an intervening party understands in real time how many votes are needed to gain an electoral advantage. “She then showed a graph in which she stated that she” shows the states where they stopped counting, which I also found strange to stop counting in the middle of election night. “
Fox insists that she recounted exactly what the attorneys argued and that “To the extent that Bartiromo linked Smartmatic and Dominion together in her voice-over of the Dominion graphic, she simply misspelled it and later clarified that the Graphic related to Dominion voting machines only. “
The company disagrees: “The Fox Anchors knew what Giuliani and Powell would say on their shows, asked questions to provoke lies about Smartmatic, and endorsed Giuliani and Powell’s investigation. The Fox Anchors added their own defamatory comments on Smartmatic. This was a scripted performance by Fox anchors Giuliani and Powell to defame and belittle Smartmatic for personal gain. “
On the day Project Veritas was filed against CNN, Fox responded to Smartmatic’s lawsuit:
“Smartmatic may be frustrated that it has been embroiled in heated national controversy, but you can’t deliver electoral technology and expect to avoid the limelight. Controversies come with the territory. And it was the president’s allegations, not the press coverage, that put Smartmatic in the spotlight. Smartmatic’s efforts to hold Fox accountable for the public understanding of what the country’s most elected official is claiming (and what numerous government agencies have investigated) pose a profound threat to the “uninhibited, robust and wide-open” debate The first change that includes protective measures. “
The various lawsuits will examine the leeway that the media have in such coverage. Both networks insist that they characterize or summarize claims. These cases are expected to set an important new precedent for protecting media organizations under defamation standards.